One hundred fifty educators, local government officials and graduate students gathered in the 2006 Osaka Conference on Human Rights Education held on 18 November 2006 in Osaka city. The conference was organized by HURIGHTS OSAKA in line with its objective of promoting human rights in Japan and the Asia-Pacific region. There were participants from Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, South Korea Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, and a keynote speaker from Australia.
The conference was preceded by school visits held on 17 November 2006 for the foreign participants. The school visits covered primary and secondary schools in the cities of Izumi, Matsubara and Osaka, one non- governmental organization, and the Osaka Education Center (a teacher training center of Osaka prefecture). The visits included class observation, interaction with students, and dialogue with school officials.
The conference proper formally started with the opening remarks by Mr. Osamu Shiraishi, Director of HURIGHTS OSAKA. A speech by Mr. Kenzo Tomonaga, Director of Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute, followed. He highlighted the international human rights education frameworks (the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education, and the World Programme for Human Rights Education). Mr. John Pace of the Australian Human Rights Centre, and an international advisor of HURIGHTS OSAKA, delivered the keynote speech. He gave a short presentation on the situation in Iraq where he worked for some time under the United Nations program. He emphasized the necessity of human rights education even in difficult situations such as Iraq's.
A panel discussion followed the speeches. Panel speakers stressed the current contexts of the school system and the developments on human rights education. The panelists from Malaysia (Ms. Chiam Heng Keng, Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia) and South Korea (Ms. Kwak Sookhee, Training Division Chief of the Asia-Pacific Center of Education for International Understanding) pointed out the problem of competitive education, which adversely affects the development of children. The panelist from Pakistan (Mr. Aurangzeb Rehman of the Pakistani Ministry of Education) presented the experience in implementing a national action plan on human rights education. The two Japanese panelists (Mr. Yasumasa Hirasawa of Osaka University, and Mr. Hideaki Koji of the Osaka Prefectural Education Board) spoke about the recent developments in human rights education in Japanese schools. Mr. Hirasawa explained the recent report of a national advisory body on education, which incorpo- rated the experiences of the Dowa educators. Mr. Koji explained the whole education system concept in human rights education that is being implemented in the Osaka prefecture.
Due to lack of time, a brief question-and-answer por- tion followed the panel presentations. A few questions were raised. One participant questioned the focus of human rights education efforts on schools. Another participant raised the situation of teachers and the need for "democracy" within the school system.
The meeting included the discussion among participants from South Asia on the contents of a planned South Asian material on teacher training on human rights education.
1. Globalization and competitive education systemIt is ironic that some children who are already enjoying education are suffering from human rights violations. It is frightening to know that the current problems in schools such as truancy, bullying, and suicide may have been caused by bad experiences at home or in school. The presentations from Malaysia and South Korea, which dealt with these problems in relation to competitive education and the problems it brings are relevant to other Asian countries including Japan.
Education is considered an important part of the growth of children in every society, and it is not expected to lead to the stifling of the children's creativity and initiative - or the loss of interest in life itself. While knowledge-based, exam-oriented, stressful education might provide good examination results, it might also affect the development of social and other skills of the students. If not given attention, they may become violent later in life, withdraw from society, or suffer mental disorder. This is what the "culture of fear of losing out" (known as kiasu in Singapore and Malaysia) is all about.
What then should be done to protect the children? What can human rights education do to help?
2. Child rightsThe panel discussions referred to child rights and related them to the problems that children at present face. The discussions raised the point that children's issues (be they minor or serious) have human rights implications.
This is the role that human rights education plays. The presentation of human rights (or child rights) must be in the context of its audience. For schools, it must relate to the actual situation of children.
In the context of competitive education, it is important to be reminded that children have the right to rest and recreation, and that there are many other interests the children should pay attention to other than academic activities to help them develop holistically.
In light of the renewed public concern about bullying and suicide among students in Japan, the right of students to personal safety has become a major concern.
The effort to find alternative channels for students to express their problems, as shown by an experience in Vietnam, provides the means to protect human rights (especially right to life or personal security) within the school premises. The idea is that the school must be sensitive to the situation of the students by giving them as many channels as possible, such as having a place or box to put messages about the problems they face or getting a network of social workers outside the school who can be trusted by students to communicate their problems to.
Human rights education in schools, as presented in the conference, does not mean learning about international documents. Rather, it is looking at ordinary life from the perspective of child rights and development.
3. Role of the teachersWhile human rights education is the responsibility of many institutions and people in society (starting with the parents), teachers play a very crucial role in it. They generally need training to effectively facilitate the learning of human rights.
The teacher training being done in Nepal that focuses on child rights is a good example of direct involvement of the Ministry of Education in human rights education. It is also a good example of collaboration between the government and the non-government sector. As part of the project, the Ministry of Education officials, university professors, and members of the Teachers Union jointly developed a teacher- training manual on child-friendly school. This collaboration brought different perspectives (especially those of the teachers) into the development of the material.
Some Japanese teachers considered the government- supported teacher-training program for human rights education in Osaka inadequate. This is probably due to the non-compulsory nature of the available training program, leading to the small number of teachers getting involved.
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